Where to start? This episode was in classic Lost tradition, for sure -- by which I do not mean a straightforward island story centering around one character, supplemented by a single character's flashback story, which takes place entirely at one point that central character's past.
No, when I say that this episode was in classic Lost tradition, I don't mean that. This one had a central island character (Ben), to be sure, but it sprayed all through his past like shotgun pellets. Not so much a flashback as a series of flashbacklettes. Ben attempting Penny's murder. Ben presiding over Widmore's banishment. Ben kidnapping Alex and pushing Rousseau the rest of the way over the edge. Ben waking up after being indoctrinated (HOW? HOW??) by Richard.
What I mean is that this was a classic Lost episode, in that what it told you, it told you glancingly, in the small moments, in the implications, and while it told you one thing, it told you another thing exactly opposite. It answered some REALLY big questions, but in the process raised deeper ones. It strikes me that this show is a like like Ben Linus; fascinating, but slippery and difficult to parse. By now, I'd expect nothing less.
OK, let's fry this episode up with some a them french fried po-tay-ters.
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1) I was wrong. I'll take the classic Season 2 Locke line upon myself. I guess I should say I was probably wrong. First, Ben convinced me, as he took the photo of the 1977 Dharma probie class in his hands, that he had no idea that our crew had been in Dharma back in the day. This complicates matters, and I will admit disappointment, because I think it complicates matters where matters heretofore were uncomplicated. There are three possibilities now:
First, it is possible that the Oceanic Dharmaniacs leave 1977 before young Ben re-infiltrates Dharma, now as a member of the Others. This would explain why he wouldn't remember Jack, Kate, and Hurley. Richard made mention last week that, if he, Richard, took Ben, then Ben wouldn't remember "any of this," so he wouldn't remember Sayid, either. However, post-temple-healing, young Ben remembers Dharma and his dad, so I am not sure how it would wash that he doesn't remember Miles, Sawyer, and Juliet. Now that I think of it, though, he doesn't see those three in the photo and therefore may know full well that MSJ lived in 1977, but have had no inkling about JKH. I don't really like this.
Second, it is possible that the island or Jacob or Smokey "course-corrects" Ben's memory somehow, so that he doesn't remember. I really don't like this.
Third, it is possible that Ben is totally lying this week and knew that Jack and Kate and Hurley and Sayid were back in the past all along. I truly hope this is the case. It's the simplest and most elegant solution, it adds meaning and depth to the show and to Ben's character, and it's just friggin' cool. But Emmerson really sold it that Ben didn't know. I hope I am wrong about being wrong about this.
I was also potentially wrong about Widmore being the force behind Dharma. He's clearly the leader of the Dharma opposition right up until what would appear to be near the time of the purge. I suppose he's aligned with Dharma now (and he clearly is, that freighter had Dharma logos on the sealed instructions) as a way of getting back to the island. Time will tell. If Time doesn't tell, I'll ask Space. If Space won't tell, I'll go back to Time, and MAKE it tell. Somebody's telling, is my point.
2) Ben is still a wounded child at heart. This episode gave us so many seemingly contradictory facets to Ben's personality that I think I'd better separate them out into sympathetic and non-sympathetic categories. Let's start with the sympathetic side. We learn a bit about Widmore — namely, he has no problem getting his murder on as a first resort — in the Kidnapping Alex flashbacklette. We also learn a bit about Ben — namely, that little kids and moms push his sympathy buttons. Off on what felt like his first big Others initiation mission, he went to kill Rousseau, but when he finds the baby there, he spares her and kidnaps the kid, which essentially biffs the mission and makes Ben have to stand up to Charles, and in a horrible hairpiece, to boot. Likewise, doesn't it seem like the whole revenge thing goes off the skids as soon as Ben realizes that killing Penny means leaving another little boy without a mom, alone with his dad?
Let's extrapolate and say that Ben projects his own experience a little bit when it comes to kids. This informs a number of the actions the Others take, specifically the kidnapping of any island children, pregnant women, etc. Think of Walt. A kid, alone with his father. A kid, alone with his father, with whom he has a strained relationship. It fits. They still need to address the "Walt has superpowers" thing, but nevertheless it fits, emotionally.
Bottom line? Ben spared more people than he killed this episode, because of mommy/daddy issues. Ben really is still that little lost kid, looking for his mom.
3) Ben is still a cold-blooded killer at heart. OH, also? Ben shot Caesar RIGHT IN THE THORAX! Shotgun, shotgun, so long, you done. And the only reason he shot Caesar was to regain Locke's trust. And the only reason Caesar caused a problem was that Ben had made Caesar suspicious of Locke. So that's how Ben does it. Oh, also he shot Desmond in the . . . groceries, or something. Maybe they'll explain why Des isn't perforated in a future episode. And also, the final moments made it clear that Ben was already planning to try to kill Locke again. So he's still a total snake.
Bottom line? Ben claims to Widmore that he'll do whatever needs to be done to protect the island. But it's fairly clear that Ben will do whatever he has to to protect his power and influence, and that he's very clever about it. The island is a priority, and his daughter was a priority, but his place in the island power structure is the top priority. And that, he realizes, is why he needs to be judged. And that is why the verdict — to be John Locke's obedient servant — is, to him, a fate worse than death.
I am not sure if Ben wanted to be judged or if that was just a line he fed Locke.
I don't think Ben wanted to die in the judging.
But after the judging, I think Ben was left wishing he were dead.
4) Smokey is an Egyptian God. Well, perhaps. Never before has there been an episode as soaked in island mysticism as this one. What I had though was the temple was merely the protective wall surrounding the temple, and under it lurks . . . something. Our friend Smokey, who lives in the bowels of what looks like nothing so much as an Ancient Egyptian tomb, covered in hieroglyphs and what Lostpedia tells me was a picture of the god Anubis, who is "the god to protect the dead and bring them to the afterlife," who apparently weighs your heart and judges whether you are worthy to enter the afterlife.
Sounds like our smoke monster might just be Anubis.
So . . . IS dead really dead on the island presided over by the god of the dead? What does Ben actually believe? He tells Sun a different story than he tells Locke. Either he killed Locke because (as I believe) he thought the island would restore Locke to life, or he simply killed Locke out of expedience and is (as he told Sun) scared to death to see Locke up and about. I really can't decide, though the fact that Alex/Smokey/Anubis said it knew Ben was going to try to kill Locke AGAIN certainly augers toward the latter. On the other hand, he truly did seem to think that Alex had come back. On the other hand, we now have three hands.
Anybody else starting to think that this temple is the "magic box" Ben once told Locke about? Anybody else starting to suspect that the temple might be a pyramid?
5) We are about to see a different Ben. It's been a season of conversion, brought about by what the various characters have . . . lost (or L O S T, if you prefer). Jack has lost his need to fix everything, and has given himself to the fate of the island. Kate lost her adoptive son, and has discovered accountability and selflessness. Locke lost his life, and is now reborn with confidence and a new mysterious knowledge of the island that surpasses Ben's own. Ben has, in the judgment, suffered a final defeat in the struggle for island supremacy by which he's defined himself.
Locke knows more than him, now. In fact, Locke knows WAY more than him, now. What Ben doesn't know about the monster seems rather profound, and his summoning message is pretty crude. Just holler down the drain? Meanwhile, Locke knows where Smokey lives and is apparently brainstorming some time travel options for Sun.
It is going to be interesting to see what Ben becomes now. Does he, like Jack, surrender and obey what the island told him to do through his daughter's lips? The fact that he accepts responsibility for Alex's death seems to point toward a Ben-version, but will he really change? Can he? Does he have a choice? Or will he keep scheming -- and what happens to him, if he does?
6) The island possesses whomever it will. "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" Illanya asked Lapedis right before whacking him in the headbone. Is it just me, or are she and her little friend acting a lot like Rousseau's crew after being possessed by Smokey/Anubis?
Is this "possession" what happens to the Others? Is it why Ben has lost his innocence? Did Juliet go through this process? Why didn't it happen to Dharma or Oceanic, when it does seem to happen to other random castaways?
In any event, it's safe to say that we have a new and dangerous group on the little island.
7) The hierarchy of the Others is starting to take shape. It's Ben as leader, and then before him, Charles in charge. Richard Alpert seems to be an equal but parallel party, kind of like the Supreme Court to the Executive branch. He doesn't answer to Charles, but neither does Charles seem to exactly answer to him. He seems to be the conduit to Jacob in a way that neither Ben nor Charles was (and I really do think he Jacob-bluffed Charles regarding Li'l Ben's indoctrination). The two positions seem to have some form of checks and balances to their relationship.
Alpert certainly could pass as Egyptian, couldn't he? Maybe he is a high priest. Let's just put Alpert down in the Honorary Rousseau slot as the secondary character from whom I officially am demanding a flashback.
The more we see of the Others, the more we will understand about these mysterious Rules that keep being referenced. One of which is, apparently, don't make trips off the island. Another is, don't have kids with outsiders. Both of these rules were apparently broken by both Ben and Charles. Another rule may have something to do with sending bloodthirsty mercenaries to shoot your rival's daughter in the head, but we'll leave that for now.
We now know something about the Whispers, finally. Ben warns Rousseau away from them, I suspect so that it won't be discovered that he spared her life when ordered otherwise. Given what we've seen, I'd suspect that this means that the whispers accompany the Others in some way.
* Where was Eloise? What did she have to say about all this Charles-banishment? What is her position in the power structure? Is she the legislature?
* Who is Penny's mother? My guess, as always, is Mr. Eko.
* Ben got very defensive when Locke asked him why he decided to bring the Others to live in Dharmaton. I am guessing that this was a bone of contention between himself and Alpert. I am also guessing this might have been the nub of the island's displeasure with Ben. Apparently you can take the future Other leader out of Dharma, but you can't take the Dharma out of the future Other leader.
* What's going to get Desmond back to the island, now? He's obviously got to come back. Does he come back to do a little Ben killing, or what?
* What exactly does it mean to be an Other? I was hoping to see Ben's conversion. How does it strip one of their innocence? Does it use innocence-sandpaper? Some kind of innocence-removing chemical compound? Innocence ShamWow? What?
* So how does Ben recruit Dharma-baby Ethan to the Other side? How does he pass between the two lives without being caught? Huh? Huh? Season Six Ben Episode, I'm looking at you!
* What is Christian's story? Ben didn't seem to register the name "Christian" when Sun told him about her experience, but then again, we must remember . . . Ben is a lying little snake. If Ben knows about Christian, then dead isn't really dead. He's corporeal, so I'm assuming he is back from the dead as well, as opposed to ghostly.
* What exactly does Locke know, and how does he know it? WHAT is Locke? He claims to be the same guy. He seems to be the same guy, but now with 300% more inner peace. Another Locke ep. soon, please.
* Everybody who's been worried about Penny for the last seven episodes, you may now breathe again.
* Extra double continuity points -- Sawyer and Hurley's RISK game in Ben's house is still set up.
* OK, "Lost", I understand there is only so much you can do with makeup, but at least TRY to hide the crow's feet on "twenty-two year-old" Ben. Also, I can tell you, if I'd been forced to wear my hair like Ben in flashbacks, I'd have become evil too. He looks like Pee Wee Herman joined Depeche Mode.
* Paging Bernard and Rose to the courtesy phone, Bernard and Rose to the courtesy phone, 12 million television viewers have lost sight of you . . .
I do like them french fried po-tay-ters. Mmm hmmm.
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